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Wiki Suggested Syllabus


Wiki syllabus for BIOL4700

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File:Sample Syllabus for Wikipedia assignment, June 2011.pdf
Download the printable PDF version of this sample syllabus.

We encourage instructors to introduce the Wikipedia assignment early in the semester since the students need to acquaint themselves with the technology. Knowing what they are preparing themselves for makes learning the ins and outs of Wikipedia relevant. Also, we encourage instructors to engage with the questions of media literacy and knowledge construction raised by Wikipedia throughout their course. Wikipedia assignments work best when integrated with the theme of the course.

Week 5: Sept. 19 Wikipedia essentials and Editing Basics

In class
  • Presentation of Wiki Editing by Dr. Xin Xu
  • Introduction to how Wikipedia will be used in the course
  • Handout: Welcome to Wikipedia (available in print or online from the Wikimedia Foundation)
  • Read Five pillars, an explanation of Wikipedia's basic rules and principles
In class
Assignments (due week 3)
  • Create a Wikipedia account, create a user page, and sign up on the list of students on the course page.
  • To practice editing and communicating on Wikipedia, introduce yourself to one of the class's Online Ambassadors (via talk page), and leave a message for a classmate on their user talk page.
  • All students have Wikipedia user accounts and are listed on the course page by Sept 26.

Week 6 Sept. 26&28: Exploring the topic area

It is also critical for students to begin researching their Wikipedia topics early in the term. Finding topics with the right balance between lack of prior good Wikipedia coverage and available literature from which to build new Wikipedia coverage can be tricky. See the list of topics on the course page or find one on your own.

In class
Assignments (due next week)
  • Critically evaluate an existing Wikipedia article related to the class or related to a Biology Topic, and leave suggestions for improving it on the article's discussion page.
  • Due Oct 3. Research and list 3–5 articles on your Wikipedia user page that you will consider working on as your main project. Ask your class's Online Ambassadors for comments.

Week 7: Oct 3&5 Using sources

As they start using sources to improve Wikipedia articles or write new ones, it is especially important for students to understand Wikipedia's policies on plagiarism and copyright violation. Student generally know that copying whole paragraphs or sentences from sources constitutes plagiarism. But many don't know about—or think they can get away with—subtler forms of plagiarism, such as using shorter phrases without attribution or beginning from a copied text and simply rewording it while leaving the structure and meaning intact (i.e., close paraphrasing). Any form of plagiarism or copyright violation is likely to result in students' work being removed from Wikipedia.

In class
Assignment (due Oct 12)
  • Add 1–2 sentences of new information, backed up with a citation to an appropriate source, to a Wikipedia article related to the class or a biology topic. LIVE on Wikipedia! YOU are a participating Wikipedian!! Congratulations!
For next week
  • Instructor evaluates student's article selection.

Week Oct 3& 5: Choosing articles

By this week, ideally, the instructor will have evaluated the students' article choices and given them feedback, helping them to choose articles that are appropriate for the assignment. Because students often wait until the last minute to do their research or choose sources unsuited for Wikipedia, we strongly suggest that the students put together a bibliography of materials they want to use in editing the article which can then be assessed by, you, the instructor and other Wikipedians.

In class
  • Discuss the range of topics students will be working on and strategies for researching and writing about them.
Assignments (due Oct 12)
  • Select an article to work on, removing the rest from the course page.
  • Compile a bibliography of relevant research and post it to the talk page of the article you are working on. Begin reading the sources.

Week 9 Oct 17: Drafting starter articles

Pros and cons to sandboxes: Sandboxes make students feel safe because they can edit without the pressure of the whole world reading their drafts or other Wikipedians altering their writing. They can learn Wikipedia's rules in a safe environment. However, sandbox editing limits many of the unique aspects of using Wikipedia as a teaching tool, such as collaborative writing and incremental drafting. Sandboxes are usually appropriate when students are starting new articles, but students should move out of sandboxes quickly. Spending more than a week or two in sandboxes is strongly discouraged.

Pros and cons to editing live: Editing live is exciting for the students because they can see their changes to the articles immediately and experience the collaborative editing process throughout the assignment. However, because many new editors often unintentionally break Wikipedia rules, sometimes students learn by having their additions questioned or removed. Editing live is usually appropriate when students are improving existing articles.

In class
  • Instructor and/or Campus Ambassadors talk about Wikipedia culture & etiquette, and [optionally] introduce the concept of sandboxes and how to use them.
  • Q&A session with instructor and/or Campus Ambassadors about interacting on Wikipedia and getting started with writing
  • Video resource: Sandbox tutorial
Assignments (due week 7)
  • If you are starting a new article, write a 3–4 paragraph summary version of your article (with citations) in your Wikipedia sandbox. If you are improving an existing article, write a summary version reflecting the content the article will have after it's been improved, and post this along with a brief description of your plans on the article's talk page.
  • Begin working with classmates and Online Ambassadors to polish your short starter article and fix any major transgressions of Wikipedia norms.
  • Continue research in preparation for expanding your article.
Milestone Oct 19
  • All students have started editing articles or drafts on Wikipedia.

Week 10 Oct 24: Did you know

Whether students are starting new articles or expanding existing articles, it's critical to get them working live on Wikipedia as soon as possible. Short summary versions for new articles (and short existing articles that have been expanded five-fold) are great starting points for working live in main space, because they should be eligible to appear on Wikipedia's Main Page as hooks in the "Did you know..." (DYK) section. This gives students an early chance to show their articles to a substantial audience and get feedback from Wikipedians, and it can be a great momentum builder for the rest of the class project. The rules for DYK are quite particular, though, so it helps to prepare ahead of time and nominate articles immediately after moving them out of sandboxes.

A good 3-4 paragraph summary can serve as the lead section for a full length article, following the summary style of Wikipedia articles, and will get students thinking from the beginning about the overall structure of their articles.

In class
Assignments (due Oct 26)
  • Move sandbox articles into main space.
  • For new articles or qualifying expansions of stubs, compose a one-sentence "hook," nominate it for "Did you know," and monitor the nomination for any issues identified by other editors.
  • Begin expanding your article into a comprehensive treatment of the topic.

Week 11 Oct 31 and Nov. 2: Building articles

At this point, many students will have 'gotten it', and have a clear understanding of how to move forward. From there, the most important thing is giving feedback, both on the work they're doing—what is missing, what sources could be used to improve it, whether the balance is appropriate—and on how to keep within Wikipedia's guidelines, particularly Neutral Point of View and No Original Research.

Other students may have stumbled with some element of getting their initial work live on Wikipedia. This is the key point to identify where students are having trouble—whether from negative reactions from other editors, technical hang-ups, problems finding good sources and using them appropriately, plagiarism, or something else. This is a good time to do a quick scan (at least) of what each student has contributed so far.

In class or outside of class
Assignments (due week 13 Nov. 14 & 16)
  • Expand your article into an initial draft of a comprehensive treatment of the topic.
  • Select two classmates' articles that you will peer review and copy-edit. (You don't need to start reviewing yet.)

Week 12 Nov. 7&9: Getting and giving feedback

Collaboration is a critical element of contributing to Wikipedia. For some students, this will happen spontaneously; their choice of topics will attract interested and knowledgeable Wikipedians who will pitch in with ideas, copy-edits, or even substantial contributions to the students' articles. Online Ambassadors who take a strong interest in the topics students are working on can make great collaborators. In many cases, however, there will be little spontaneous editing of students' articles before the end of the term. Fortunately, a class full of fellow learners is a great pool of peer reviewers. You can make the most of this by assigning students to review each others' articles soon after full-length drafts are posted, to give students plenty of time to act on the advice of their peers.

In class
  • As a group, have the students offer suggestions for improving one or two of the students' articles, setting the example for what is expected from a solid encyclopedia article.
Assignments (by Nov. 16)
  • Peer review two of your classmates' articles. Leave suggestions on the article talk pages.

  • All articles have been reviewed by others. All students have reviewed articles by their classmates.

Week 14: Nov 21 Responding to feedback

At this point, students should have produced more or less complete articles. Now is the chance to encourage them to wade a little deeper into Wikipedia and its norms and criteria for great content. You'll probably have discussed many of the core principles of Wikipedia—and related issues you want to focus on—but now that they've experienced how Wikipedia works first hand, this is a good time to return to topics like neutrality, media literacy, and the impact and limits of Wikipedia. Consider bringing in a guest speaker, having a panel discussion, or simply having an open discussion amongst the class about what the students have done so far and why (or whether) it matters.

The next step for students' articles can be nominating them for Good Article status; it may take longer than the time remaining in the term for all the articles to get formal Good Article reviews (although Online Ambassadors may be able to help review them in a timely manner), but Good Article reviews often produce high quality feedback on both style and content. Some instructors have awarded automatic high marks for any students who successfully write articles that achieve Good Article status.

In class
  • Open discussion of the concepts of neutrality, media literacy, and the impact and limits of Wikipedia
Assignments (due Nov. 28)
  • Make edits to your article based on peers' feedback.
  • Nominate your article for Good Article status.
  • Prepare for an in-class presentation about your Wikipedia editing experience.

Week 15: Nov. 28 & 30 Class presentations

In class
  • Students give in-class presentations about their article of interest and lead the class through an examination of the issue from the four perspectives.
Assignments (due Dec. 5)
  • Add final touches to you Wikipedia article. Try to address issues from Good Article reviews.

Week 16: Dec 5.

You made it! Wiki Celebration Party! Discussion of the course, and the Wikipedia contributions. Will you continue as an active wikipedian?

  • Students have finished all their work on Wikipedia that will be considered for grading, and have submitted reflective essays.


Capstone Project is 40% of course grade

These elements contribute to the Capstone Project

  • 15%: Peer reviews and collaboration with classmates
  • 25%: Presentation
  • 60  %: Quality of main Wikipedia contributions, evaluated in light of reflective essay
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